The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Where whas WHAMIT!?  

Doesn’t WHAMIT usually come out on Monday mornings? Yes, but alas we had some server problems over the weekend. We apologize for the delay, but hope you enjoy all the news nonetheless. Please also take the time to notice two new sister blogs in the blogroll to the right. New blogs from Harvard Linguistics and McGill Linguistics. Welcome to the club!


Film about Wampanoag language revival this Thursday  

At MIT this Thursday, there will be a screening of the film We Still Live Here (Âs Nutayuneân):

Date/Time: Thursday, Nov 17, 7:00pm
Location: 1-190

Celebrated every Thanksgiving as the Indians who saved the Pilgrims from starvation, and then largely forgotten, the Wampanoag Tribes of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard are now saying loud and clear, and in their Native tongue, “Âs Nutayuneân,”—We Still Live Here. The Wampanoag’s ancestors ensured the survival of the first English settlers in America, and lived to regret it. Now a cultural revival is taking place. Spurred on by their celebrated linguist, Jessie Little Doe Baird, recent winner of a MacArthur ‘genius’ award, the Wampanoag are bringing their language home. Like many Native American stories, this one begins with a vision. Years ago, Jessie began having recurring dreams: familiar-looking people from another time speaking in an incomprehensible language. These visions sent her on an odyssey that would uncover hundreds of documents written in Wampanoag, lead her to a Masters in Linguistics at MIT, and result in an unprecedented feat of language reclamation by her people. Jessie’s daughter Mae is the first Native speaker of Wampanoag in a century.

Jessie Little Doe Baird received her S.M. degree from this department in 2000, where her advisor was the legendary late Ken Hale. We wrote about Jessie on the occasion of her MacArthur award in 2010, where we also noted our colleague Norvin Richards’ role in continuing Ken’s contributions to the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.

After the screening, Jessie and Norvin will be joined in a discussion and question & answer session by film maker Anne Makepeace, and by Nitana Hicks (S.M. Linguistics, 2006), another member of the Mashpee Wampanoag involved in the reclamation effort.

Cosponsored by MIT Program in Women’s and Gender Studies, Women in Film and Video/New England, The Technology and Culture Forum, The Office of Minority Education, The Office of Student Activities and MIT Linguistics.


Syntax Square 11/15 - Gary Thoms  

Speaker: Gary Thoms (Strathclyde University)
Title: Roll up! PBC effects, anti-locality and Japanese scrambling
Date/Time: Tuesday, Nov 15, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

One of the consequences of Kayne’s (1994) Linear Correspondence Axiom (LCA) is that head-final word order must be derived by movement of the complement into a specifier position; this is known as “roll-up movement” (RUM). In most cases the only evidence for RUM comes from the word order facts themselves, and this lack of independent support thus leaves RUM and other such LCA-related movement operations open to criticism. However, the LCA approach to head-finality makes a clear prediction: in harmonically head-final languages, apparent complements should in fact behave like they are in specifier positions with respect to conditions like locality and anti-locality (Abels 2003).

In this paper I explore these predictions and argue that we can in fact find such evidence for RUM in a harmonically head-final language like Japanese. First, I consider Proper Binding Condition effects in VP-scrambling constructions with the light verb `su’ (where the lexical verb stays in the VP); I show that the distribution of these effects indicates that this is indeed VP and not vP-scrambling, a kind of scrambling that should be banned by anti-locality. Considering the nature of anti-locality as a constraint, I argue that this follows if we accept that RUM gives the VP a `free ride’ to the edge of the vP phase. With this established, I then turn `remnant VP scrambling’, where the VP is scrambled after the verb has raised out of it (Koizumi 2000). Considering the apparent *lack* of PBC effects in remnant VP-scrambling, I argue that the position of the lexical verb with respect to its arguments is the crucial factor in determining PBC effects. I propose an analysis in terms of Fox and Pesetsky’s (2005) Cyclic Linearization, and I show that in order to derive the cases of PBC-free remnant VP-scrambling within this framework (and a set of independently required assumptions), we need to allow arguments to get to the edge of the vP phase without moving there directly. I argue that this provides further evidence for RUM. I thus conclude that the linearization asymmetries in Japanese VP-scrambling give language-internal evidence for the LCA.


Linguistics Colloquium 11/18 - Maria Aloni  

Speaker: Maria Aloni (University of Amsterdam)
Time: Friday 11/18 3:30 PM
Location: 32-141
Title: Modal inferences in marked indefinites


In this talk I will discuss two marked indefinite determiners which are normally classified as epistemic (Jayez & Tovena 2006, Alonso-Ovalle & Menendez-Benito 2010): Italian un qualche (Zamparelli 2007) and German irgendein (Haspelmath 1997, Kratzer & Shimoyama 2002). In the first part of the talk I will identify a number of functions (context-meaning pairs) for marked indefinites, and discuss the distribution of un qualche and irgendein with respect to these functions (Aloni & Port 2011). The most striking aspect of the observed distribution is the different behavior the two indefinites display under epistemic and under deontic modals. Under epistemic modals both indefinites are licensed and give rise to an ignorance inference; under deontic modals only German irgendein is licensed and gives rise to a free choice inference. In the second part of the talk I will give a formal account of these facts in the framework of a Dynamic Semantics with Conceptual Covers (Aloni 2001).


Ling-Lunch 11/17 - Timothy J. O’Donnell  

Speaker: Timothy J. O’Donnell (MIT)
Title: Productivity and Reuse in Language
Date/Time: Thursday, Nov 17, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

A much-celebrated aspect of language is the way in which it allows us to make “infinite use of finite means.” This property is made possible because language is fundamentally a computational system: Novel expressions can be composed out of a large inventory of stored, reusable parts.

For any given language, however, there are many more potential ways of forming novel expressions than are actually used in practice. For example, English contains suffixes which are highly generalizable (e.g., -ness; Lady-Gagaesqueness, pine-scentedness) and suffixes which can only be reused in specific words, and cannot be generalized (e.g., -th; truth, width, warmth).How are such differences in generalizability and reusability represented? How can the child acquire this system of knowledge? This set of related questions can be called the “problem of productivity.”

I will discuss a mathematical model of productivity and reuse which addresses the problem by treating it as a structure-by-structure inference in a Bayesian framework. I will compare this model to four other probabilistic models which formalize historical proposals from linguistics and psycholinguistics.

I will discuss the evaluation of these proposals on two very different sub-systems of English morphology: the English past tense, which is characterized by a sharp dichotomy in productivity between regular (i.e., -ed) and irregular (e.g., sing/sang) forms, and English derivational morphology, which is characterized by greater variability in productivity: from wholly productive (e.g., -ness), to productive in certain contexts (e.g., -ity; agreeability), to completely unproductive (e.g., -th). I will discuss several different aspects of the development and the adult state of these two systems, possibly including developmental overregularization, suffix ordering phenomena, and the generalizability of suffix combinations.


LFRG 11/18 - mitcho (Michael Erlewine)  

Speaker: mitcho (Michael Erlewine)
Title: Focus islands
Location: 32D-831
Time: Friday, Nov 18, 1:00PM-2:30PM


In this talk I discuss the phenomena of “focus islands”: that F-marked constituents cannot move out of the scope of focus-sensitive operators. This phenomenon was first noted by Tancredi (1990) for overt movement and Aoun & Li (1993) argued that this constraint also affects quantifier scope.

1. * [Whoi]F does John only like ti? (Tancredi 1990)
     Intended: ‘Who is the person x such that John only likes [x]F?’
2. A teacher only likes every [boy]F.
     a teacher > every boy, * every boy > a teacher (Aoun & Li 1993)

In this talk I share some work-in-progress thoughts on explaining focus islandhood. The presentation may (or may not) involve a discussion of recent literature on computing focus alternatives with or without variables in semantics (Shan 2004, Novel & Romero 2009).


Michael Kenstowicz at USC  

Michael Kenstowicz was an invited speaker at USC’s Department of Linguistics last week, presenting “Accent Classes and Lexical Drift in Kyungsang Korean” in their colloquium series. He also met with their PhonLunch group to discuss his paper “Contrasts, Mergers, and Acquisitions in Kyungsang Acccent,” co-authored with Hyesun Cho and Jieun Kim.


MIT goes to NELS  

Last Friday through Sunday, a goodly group of MIT linguists traveled to Toronto for NELS 42, hosted by the University of Toronto. All told, six talks were presented by our graduate students, in addition to David Pesetsky’s invited talk (one of four reflecting the conference theme “Diversity and universals: The role of typology and linguistic universals in linguistic theory”). The other invited speakers were Mark Baker, Lisa Matthewson, and Martina Wiltschko.

On Friday. Bronwyn Bjorkman and Claire Halpert presented their paper “In search of (im)perfection: the illusion of counterfactual aspect”, Rafael Nonato argued that “Clause-chaining is coordination” (on the basis of striking similarities between Kisêdjê and English), and David Pesetsky presented an invited talk on why we should view “Dependent Case as Binding Theory”. On Saturday, Suyeon Yun gave her talk on “Opacity and serial phonology-morphology interaction in Kyungsang Korean”. On Sunday, Yusuke Imanishi told the audience “How to merge possessor WH in Kaqchikel (Mayan): A non-uniform merge of argument WH”, Claire Halpert spoke on “Structural case and the nature of vP in Zulu”, and Jeremy Hartman presented his paper “Parallel movement and (non-)intervention by experiencers”. We’re biased, but we think their talks were fantastic. There were interesting, tough questions after the talks, and lively discussion.

As always at NELS, other great talks were presented by recent graduates, distinguished alums and fondly-remembered vistors. We’re sure we’re going to end up forgetting some (sorry!), but in the recent and slightly less recent alum category, we want to note the excellent talks by Gillian Gallagher, Heejeong Ko and her student Chorong Kang, Susi Wurmbrand, Julie Legate and Course 6 alum (but who’s counting) Charles Yang. The fondly remembered visitor category includes the talks by Sarah Ouwayda (whose talk was partly developed during her stay here last Spring), Gary Thoms, Ileana Paul and Lisa Matthewson. And there were plenty of really interesting talks by linguists from everywhere else too!

At NELS, we also got to say hello to Jessica Coon, who came over from McGill for the event, Tim Stowell and Carson Schutze from UCLA, who came to support their department’s own healthy contingent of NELS presenters, and several ex-MITers at the University of Toronto, including Diane Massam, Cristina Cuervo, Michela Ippolito and Yoonjung Kang. It was a great conference, and a nice reunion as well.